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Augmenting Lilongwe’s water woes

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By Trouble Ziba & Patricia Kapulula:

DESTRUCTION MISSION—A truckload of logs from the forest

The volume of water Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) supplies to its clients has gone down from 125 to 90 mega litres per day over the past four years.

There is also fear that the daily supplied water volume may further drop to 70 mega litres in the next three years if current factors affecting water levels in Lilongwe River remain.

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This steady reduction of water supply to the residents results from the lowering water level in the river, LWB’s lone source with its catchment area at Dzalanyama Forest Reserve.

Excessive cutting down of trees in the forest has led to siltation that leads to reduced water level in reservoirs, Kamuzu dams 1 and 2, on the river.

In trying to rescue the situation, LWB has spent about K300 million in the past five years to maintain Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers that were deployed to guard the forest.

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The intervention helped trees to grow and the stumps to regenerate, as the soldiers seized any equipment brought into the forest illegally to destroy the trees.

However, after the soldiers left in 2018, people mobilised again and started harvesting what was in the forest.

The situation has worsened again, like it was in 2011 before the soldiers came in, says LWB’s Chief Executive Officer Alfonso Chikuni.

“I would say it is a complete disaster because if you just stop at Bunda Turn-off and count how many bicycles and vehicles come out of Dzalanyama [with charcoal], it is a complete disaster,” Chikuni says.

He warns that if the current trend continues, Dzalanyama Forest Reserve will be completely depleted in five years, and that it would be worse for the city’s water supply.

“For now, our installed capacity of 125 mega litres per day has diminished to about 90 mega litres within the past three to four years. If this projection is consistent and the trend is consistent, we may reach 70 [mega litres per day] by 2021 or 2022,” he says.

Chikuni adds: “On the flipside, we have the city that is growing and demand for water is increasing exponentially due to the growing population.”

The 2018 Malawi Population and Housing Census pegged the city’s population at 989,318 with an annual growth rate of 3.8 percent.

The recurring of deforestation in Dzalanyama Forest after the soldiers left is worrisome, stakeholders say, conceding that the soldiers were not supposed to be in the forest forever.

Early February this year, Chief Secretary to the Government, Lloyd Muhara announced that government would be planting 4,000 trees in the 2018/19 season to help restore the forest.

“We have set 2021 as the target to ensure the forest will have been restored to its natural state by yearly tree-planting,” Muhara said at Dzalanyama Forest Reserve where he presided over the tree-planting exercise LWB had organised.

He acknowledged the need to conserve the forest being the source of Lilongwe River which supplies water to the city’s residents through Kamuzu Dam 1 and 2.

The Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, LWB and Japanese International Cooperation Agency have also partnered in a project to restore the forest.

What is worrisome to stakeholders is not lack of interventions to restore Dzalanyama Forest, but that efforts meant to restore the same are frustrated far before they bear fruits.

Trees are now cut down while still young because big ones have been depleted.

The malpractice also denies a chance for the slow-growing indigenous trees like Miyombo, Misuku and others to regenerate.

As a result, the rate of depletion of the forest surpasses that of reforestation.

But why are communities surrounding the natural treasure perpetually plundering it without regard for the future?

SEEKS ALTERNATIVES —Masumbankhunda

Traditional Authority Masumbankhunda in Lilongwe, whose area harbours part of the forest, says many people depend on charcoal production as a source of income.

“Poverty and unemployment push many people into charcoal production. There is need for government and other agencies to offer alternatives to charcoal production,” he says.

But Chikuni and Muhara wonder how other communities without forest reserves lead their lives.

“One of the alternatives is bee-keeping, which can pay off better than charcoal production,” Muhara said during the tree-planting exercise.

Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining spokesperson Sangwani Phiri says the decision to bring soldiers to guard the forests was a case of last option.

He says it was observed the forest guards could not match in strength, equipment and expertise with those of illegal charcoal producers; otherwise, they could “mercilessly be butchered”.

“Simply put, the initiative was posting great dividends in forestry protection and conservation,” Phiri says.

Despite the worsening situation, the Forestry Department is not bowing down. It is training its forest guards who are armed with guns to effectively guard Dzalanyama and other reserves.

The department is also sensitising communities around Dzalanyama Forest in Lilongwe, Dedza and Mchinji districts that share the 989.35 square kilometre reserve to conservation of the same.

Phiri concedes the worsening depletion of Dzalanyama Forest Reserve is directly attributed to the withdrawal of soldiers from the forest and hints on the possibility of redeploying them.

The situation will, therefore, continue affecting Lilongwe River’s catchment and water levels.

What is happening is a signal strong enough for LWB to start looking for alternative sources of water before being caught off-guard when the river dries up completely.

Diamphwe River and Lake Malawi are some alternative sources. However, such projects are not easy to undertake, Chikuni concedes.

Additionally, Diamphwe River could face the same challenge because Dzalanyama Forest is also its catchment area.

To this effect, Lilongwe River’s water levels will continue to go down unless the forest is seriously conserved.

Eventually, Chikuni’s projection that, if the situation remains the same in the next three years, LWB will only be able to supply 70 mega litres per day in 2022 would come true.

Otherwise, the projection means water supplied to Lilongwe residents will be going down in every three to four years by about 20 mega litres per day if nothing is done.

By extension of the same projection, one would say LWB will be able to supply only 30 mega litres per day by 2030 and then completely fail by 2035. – Mana

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